The Nuggets wasted no time treating their personal, big name, free agents well early in the free agency period. With rumblings coming out throughout the afternoon, Chris Haynes reported at 11:37 eastern time that Will Barton and Denver had agreed to the four-year $54M deal with a player option for the fourth year.
Minutes late Woj confirmed that Nikola Jokic was “poised to accept” the five-year max contract. With that, the Nuggets locked down their first and second priority free agents before free agency even officially started. Barton being the surprise of the two to happen this quickly.
Barton has a career average of 10.4 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 2.3 assists, but has really seen his career take off in the Mile High City. In Denver, Barton averages 14.2 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 3.2 assists. Barton even finished second in assists and top five in all of the traditional counting stat categories for the Nuggets last season.
The Nuggets acquired Barton through trade in February of 2015, sending Aaron Afflalo and Alonzo Gee to Portland in exchange for Victor Claver, Thomas Robinson, a 2016 lottery-protected 1st round pick and Will Barton. At the time of the trade the casual fan would think Robinson and the 1st round pick were the headline of the deal, but Barton made an impact right away. In his 28 games he averaged 24.4 minutes per game and scored in double figures as he has each year since.
Recently Barton has played in 81 or more games two of the last three seasons and has become a pivotal part of the Nuggets rotation, and a fill in starter at point guard, shooting guard, and small forward. Going from fan favorite to scapegoat was something that has never bothered Barton throughout his time in Denver, and he’s never been afraid of a big moment. Always willing to take the big shots and compete at a high level to get Denver to the playoffs is something that has really drawn Barton to the city and the team.
With interest from Indiana it seemed that Barton would test the free agency waters a bit, even if he had interest in returning to Denver. Turns out the mutual interest between Barton and the Nuggets was stronger than anticipated. With Indiana making other moves, Barton’s best offer was also likely from Denver in a year where there isn’t a lot of money to go around under the cap.
Chris Haynes later reported that Barton is also expected to assume the starting small forward role. This has several interesting implications on the Wilson Chandler trade front, as well as Michael Porter Jr.’s health expectations. Only time will tell if, and for how long, Barton is the starting small forward, but over the course of this contract he figures to slide back into his sixth man role and likely compete for the league’s award year after year.
Throughout his career, Barton has always played up to the nicknamed he was dubbed with at the time. From “Slinky” to “Will the Thrill” to “Willy B Buckets,” Barton has truly evolved his game as a Denver Nugget. The lanky 6’6″ 175 pound guard and the length, quickness, and body control to contort his body driving to the lane and handling the ball. That ability soon combined with his athleticism to be a high flyer on Denver teams that liked to get out and run when he embodied his main nickname Will the Thrill. Recently, the Nuggets have needed Barton to score the ball at a high rate. Barton has improved his three-point percentage to a steady .370 over the last two seasons and has come up with creative ways to score the ball.
Barton is at the point now to where he can take all of these aspects of his game and combine them to make his a complete volume scorer and valuable 6th man for this Nuggets team. While his role still may be unsteady as the Nuggets figure out their backup point guard situation and Michael Porter Jr’s status, it’s nice to have a competitor like Barton who truly wants to make this team a threat in the West. By the time his four-year deal is up, there’s no telling where the Nuggets might be and how much they may have improved. My sense is that Barton, and the Nuggets front office, have no shortage of lofty expectations for the seasons to come.